A short walk past our neighbor’s house and down the hill leads to a low-lying area that has collected runoff water and become a small pond full of stagnant, slimy green water. For years, it was what we called a “dry creek,” an oxymoronic designation meaning that during the rainy times, a little creek would form, but in the dry seasons, it would disappear. I’m not sure what happened to change that pattern, but at some point, any water that found its way there ceased to flow out, and what was sometimes a “creek” is now just a swampy haven for a variety of distasteful creatures. That stagnant pond provides a home and breeding ground for things like mosquitoes, frogs, snakes, turtles, and lizards. Some suggest that a pond like that may produce a certain genre of politician, but I must confess that I haven’t actually witnessed any of that breed of creature crawling out of it–at least not yet. I do hear eerie sounds emanating from down there at night that could be the sound of debate practice, but I can’t say for sure.
Not Quite a “Water Park” ~
It occurred to me that one of my favorite places to go as a kid was our neighbor’s farm pond. Water parks didn’t exist back then, and I had never seen a real swimming pool, but for us, the pond did offer a variety of compelling activities. Prior to an afternoon of fishing, for instance, we would explore the creek feeding into it and try to catch minnows or crawdads to use as bait. If that failed, the weeds and bullrushes growing around its edges held the possibility of finding grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, unidentified bugs, worms, frogs, or anything else we thought the fish might want to eat. If we didn’t capture any decent bait, or if the fish weren’t biting, we could always resort to shedding our pants and going swimming in our underwear. We’d get a lecture from Mom about that, but the half-smile she couldn’t hide assured us that her disapproval wasn’t all that serious. On the other hand, if she had caught us playing in a stagnant, slimy mess like the one near us now, her response would have been altogether different. Freshwater ponds are inviting, but stagnant pools are repulsive and can be dangerous.
Water not only sustains life itself, it is in many ways synonymous with physical and emotional refreshment. It provides a source of recreation, a venue for pleasant relaxation, exciting parties, and beautiful scenery. Artistic fountains adorn houses, lawns, palaces, and public squares. In addition to the natural ones, man-made lakes and ponds dot the landscape, and recreational pools range from child-sized plastic ones to those large enough to accommodate Olympic competition. Water can be inviting, but nobody wants to park their lounge chair among snakes and frogs and sip their lemonade next to a stagnant, smelly waterhole.
A Process Involved ~
A couple of observations are worth considering in regard to our little mosquito haven. First, it didn’t get that way overnight. There was a process involved. Stagnation began because there was no fresh water coming in and no outlet for the toxic contents to be removed, and that kind of downward transformation isn’t reserved for small bodies of water alone. There are other things God created to be life-sustaining sources of blessing and refreshment that depend on a continual influx of life-giving material and a cleansing outflow that removes deadly toxins. If that process is denied, life soon disappears, and what’s left behind loses the appeal it once had.
Sadly, the ecclesiastical landscape in America is dotted with churches that have grown stagnant. Churches that were once vibrant, powerful lighthouses beaming the Word of God into their communities are disappearing. Many of the voices that once spoke out with boldness have grown silent, no longer countering the toxic ideas and concepts that undermine and destroy those foundational principles that ensure spiritual and moral health. A focus on sacrificial service and reaching out with unselfish love for the lost and broken is being replaced by allegiance to the denominational program. As churches grow stagnant, the atmosphere becomes more isolative, cliquish, and judgmental. Eventually, what was once an appealing, life-sustaining, refreshing, and spiritually stimulating place to be becomes a place to be avoided.
Marriages are vulnerable, too. All of us can recall couples who began life together with profound public declarations of devotion. They vowed that their love would be impervious to any and all of life’s trials and tribulations. Then years later, their utopia began to show signs of stagnation. Expressions of love and joy were gradually lost in a lifeless cycle of sameness, and toxic elements began to find their way in. Eventually, what was once a haven for enjoying the best things in life was left with no life at all.
Life Demands Movement ~
Routines are necessary and repetition can’t be avoided. Life will always be filled with predictable elements, but they don’t have to lock out innovation and fresh perspectives. The process of stagnation depends on a lack of movement. If there is a consistent flow of fresh, life-giving material coupled with flushing out the elements that are dangerous, then stagnation cannot begin to develop.
The reason nothing lives in stagnant water is that there is no oxygen in it, and without access to oxygen, life pretty much ceases to exist. The Genesis account makes it clear that human life began when the breath of God was transmitted to Adam’s lungs. In both Old and New Testament language, the word translated as either “spirit” or “breath” is the same word, and God has made it clear that at every level, life depends on it, and so do the relationships that He designed.
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63 (NKJV)
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2 (NKJV)
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. James 2:26 (NKJV)
Our stagnant little waterhole can’t change itself. Fresh water has to come from the outside. Stagnant human relationships are that way, too. What if God intended us to be that fresh breath of His Truth that could begin to change someone’s stale and hopeless relationship? What if we were the source God intended to use to inject a fresh dose of life in our church, or our community group, or even our own marriage? Remember . . . God once used frogs as a plague. Our job as followers of Christ is not to support a process that attracts them.
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